Dream On (THE DREAMERS)

From the Chicago Reader (February 20, 2004). — J.R.

The Dreamers

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Written by Gilbert Adair

With Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel, Robin Renucci, and Anna Chancellor.

Nostalgia is highly selective, abridging the past and adjusting it to fit the terms of the present — and often becoming an ideological con job in the process. Those who wax nostalgic about the radicalism of their youth usually imply that the values that made it so attractive back then also make it impossible to hold on to today.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, set in Paris over three months in early 1968, focuses on an American student, Matthew (Michael Pitt), who becomes intimately involved with a French brother and sister, Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), whom he meets at the Cinémathèque. Invited into the siblings’ flat just before their parents leave on vacation, he gets drawn into their perverse and vaguely incestuous games, which combine charades involving movies, sex, and ultimately politics. Their interactions run parallel to the French government’s firing of the disorderly director of the Cinémathèque, Henri Langlois, and the ensuing outcry among cinephiles and filmmakers. Street demonstrations led to clashes with the police — and turned out to be dress rehearsals for the student demonstrations and workers’ strikes that May, which came dangerously close to shutting the country down.… Read more »

Burden Of Truth [SLING BLADE]

From the Chicago Reader (April 25, 1997). — J.R.

Sling Blade

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Billy Bob Thornton

With Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, John Ritter, J.T. Walsh, Natalie Canerday, Lucas Black, James Hampton, Rick Dial, and Robert Duvall.

There is no point in rendering something realistically unless it is to make it more meaningful in an abstract sense. In this paradox lies the progress of the movies. — Andre Bazin

In one of the unfortunate casualties of film history and criticism, writer-director-performers are generally approached as performers and/or directors first and as writers second, yet it’s often the writerly impulse that gives birth to both the performance and the direction. Erich von Stroheim and Charlie Chaplin are seldom regarded as the writers of Foolish Wives and City Lights respectively, but without their scripts neither the performances nor the films themselves would exist. Orson Welles, habitually described as a director and actor, insisted throughout his career that he always started with the written word, not with free-floating ideas for “shots.”

So it was a matter of some satisfaction to me that Billy Bob Thornton wound up getting an Oscar last month not for his lead performance in Sling Blade or for its direction but for his script.… Read more »

Voluptuous Defeat: Philippe Garrel and LES AMANTS RÉGULIERS

Commissioned by Sight and Sound, and written for their August 2006 issue. — J.R.

Considering how much admiration I have for the films of Philippe Garrel, it’s hard to avoid some feelings of guilt and consternation for not liking them more –  especially when I consider how much they mean to others whose tastes I admire. Why do I find myself preferring the work of his best-known disciple, Leos Carax?

This is a problem I’ve been wrestling with for a quarter of a century. For the past decade, I’ve been trying to theorize my disaffection by ascribing the passion of my younger friends for this melancholy star of the French underground to a generational taste I can’t share. In some respects, I even like the way they like Garrel’s films more than I like the films themselves. They generate a kind of awe that few other filmmakers inspire, and the fact that he’s a minority taste in no way disqualifies him from being a major talent.
These far-flung cinéphiles, all born around 1960, include Nicole Brenez, based in Paris; Alexander Horwath, based in Vienna; Kent Jones, based in New York; and Adrian Martin, based in Melbourne —- all of whom share similarly acute feelings for John Cassavetes, Abel Ferrara, Monte Hellman, and Maurice Pialat.… Read more »

Simple Slimeballs [DANGEROUS LIAISONS]

From the Chicago Reader (January 20, 1989). — J.R.

DANGEROUS LIAISONS

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Stephen Frears

Written by Christopher Hampton

With Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick, and Uma Thurman.

Choderlos de Laclos’ Les liaisons dangereuses, first published more than 200 years ago, is one of the greatest novels ever written, but one would never guess it from the watchable but shallow comedy-melodrama of manners that Christopher Hampton and Stephen Frears have extracted from it. They’ve stuck fairly close to the general outlines of the original plot, but they’ve jettisoned the form entirely, so that what remains is a distortion as well as a simplification of what is conceivably the best French novel of the 18th century.

Admittedly, Roger Vadim’s updated French film adaptation of 30 years ago, set partially at a contemporary ski resort, was no less reductive, and a third film version presently being prepared by Milos Forman, Valmont, is unlikely to avoid similar problems. Laclos’ 1782 masterpiece is an epistolary novel consisting of 175 letters written by at least ten separate characters, preceded by a “Publisher’s Note” and an “Editor’s Preface” and accompanied by several “editorial” footnotes throughout — an intricate dialectical construction that offers us several independent and often contradictory versions of practically everything that happens, and more than one interpretation of what all the various events mean.… Read more »

FOOLISH WIVES (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 514). –- J.R.

Foolish Wives

U.S.A., 1922
Director: Erich von Stroheim

Cert—A. dist–BFI. p.c–Universal Super Jewel. p–Carl Laemrnle. asst. d–Edward Sowders, Jack R. Proctor, Louis Germonprez. special asst. to Stroheim–Gustav Machaty. sc–Erich von-Stroheim. ph–Ben Revnolds, William Daniels. illumination and lighting effects—Harry J. Brown. ed–Erich von Stroheim, (release version: Arthur D. Ripley). a.d—E. E. Sheeley, Richard Day. scenic artist—Van Alstein [Alstyn]. technical d–William Meyers, James Sullivan, George Williams. sculpture–Don Jarvis. master of properties–C. J. Rogers. m—[original score by Sigmund Romberg]. cost–Western Costuming Co., Richard Day, Erich von Stroheim. titles–Marian Ainslee, Erich von Stroheim. research asst-J . Lambert. l.p—Rudolph Christians/Robert Edenson (Andrew J. Hughes), Miss Du Pont [Patsy Hannen] (Helen Hughes), Maude George (“Princess”Olga Petschnikoff), Mae Busch (“Princess” Vera Petschnikoff), Erich von Stroheim (“Count” Sergei Karamzin), Dale Fuller (Maruschka), Al Edmundsen (Pavel Pavlich, the Butler), Cesare Gravina (Signor Gaston), Malvina Polo (Gaston’s Daughter [Marietta]), Louis K. Webb (Dr. Judd), Mrs. Kent (Mrs, Judd), C.J. Allen (Albert I, Prince of Monaco), Edward Reinach (Secretary of State of Monaco).… Read more »

10 Key Moments in Films (4th Batch)

Here are ten of the 40-odd short pieces I wrote for Chris Fujiwara’s excellent, 800-page volume Defining Moments in Movies (London: Cassell, 2007).  – J.R.

Scene

1990 / Close Up – The motorcycle ride of Makhmalbaf  and Sabzian.

Iran. Director: Abbas Kiarostami. Cast: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Hossein Sabzian. Original title: Nema-ye Nazdi.

Why It’s Key: A convicted imposter finally meets the man he’s been impersonating, and they set off together to visit the family that was fooled.

Hossein Babzian, a bookbinder, emerges from a jail sentence for having impersonated famous filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to ingratiate himself with the well-to-do Ahankhah family, pretending he was planning a movie about them. He’s greeted by the real Makhmalbaf, arriving on his motorbike to take him to visit the Ahankhahs, and filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and his crew, who have arranged this meeting, are filming the entire encounter from a distance. We hear them saying that Makhmalbaf’s lapel mike is faulty, and notice that the dialogue between Makhmalbaf and Sabzian (“Do you prefer being Makhmalbaf or being Sabzian? I’m tired of being me”) periodically becomes inaudible — on the street, after Sabzian climbson the back of the motorbike, and when they stop briefly for Sabzian to buy flowers for the Ahankhans.… Read more »

Reasons for Kicking and Screaming

This essay about Noah Baumbach’s first feature was commissioned by Criterion for their DVD of Kicking and Screaming, and was written around May 2006. — J.R.

“There’s plenty of wit on the surface,” I wrote in my capsule review of Kicking and Screaming when it was released a little over a decade ago, “but the pain of paralysis comes through loud and clear.” Having voluntarily spent five years as an undergraduate myself, I could and still can find plenty of reasons to identify with the four desperate antiheroes of this brittle comedy, who graduate from college and then proceed to spend the next half year on or around campus, doing as little as possible.

Grover (Josh Hamilton), expecting to live in Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Jane (Olivia d’Abo), is so dumbstruck and angry when she accepts a scholarship to study in Prague that he won’t reply to any of her phone messages, and can only brood over their past in five strategically placed flashbacks, each one heralded by a black-and-white snapshot of her. Otis (Carlos Jacott) finds himself incapable of flying to grad school in Milwaukee, only one time zone away, and reverts to living with his mother. Max (Chris Eigeman), who’d rather label broken glass as such on the floor than sweep it up, finds nothing better to do than chide Otis, do crossword puzzles, and have sex with Miami (Parker Posey), the girlfriend of Skippy (Jason Wiles).… Read more »

The Guarded Intimacy of SANS SOLEIL

The following essay was commissioned by Michael Koresky at the Criterion Collection for their 2007 DVD release of Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (which they brought out with La jetée), although they eventually decided not to include it in their booklet. They made it available on their web site for a spell until an infection obliged them to remove all their essays, but Koresky has informed me that these are being reposted now that their new web site is being launched. I’m reprinting it here, in any case, with their permission. I should add that it recycles some material from my essay “On Second Thoughts,” about The Last Bolshevik, reprinted at the end of my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.


 

 

The Guarded Intimacy of Sans soleil

by Jonathan Rosenbaum


 

“The Sorbonne should be razed and Chris Marker put in its place.” —-Henri Michaux

 

“Contrary to what people say, using the first person in films tends to be a sign of humility: `All I have to offer is myself.’”—Chris Marker


 

Even though few film essayists are more mythological than Chris Marker, it might help to clarify some matters if a couple of the more persistent myths surrounding his legend were undermined a little.Read more »

LE VRAI COUPABLE: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

This was originally a lecture given at a conference on Godard held in Cerisy, France on August 20, 1998. It subsequently appeared in a printed form somewhat closer to that found below, in Screen magazine (vol 40, no. 3). in Autumn 1999, as part of a Godard dossier assembled by the estimable Michael Witt. But, if memory serves, it took about a year of correspondence and wrangling before anyone on the magazine’s staff agreed to send me any copy of the issue. (Note: for a more general essay and interview with Godard about Histoire(s) du cinéma, go here.) —J.R.

Le Vrai Coupable: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Since the outset of his career, Godard has been interested in two kinds of criticism — film criticism and social criticism — and these two interests are apparent in practically everything he does and says as an artist. The first two critical texts that he published–in the second and third issues of Gazette du cinéma in 1950 — are entitled “Joseph Mankiewicz” and “Pour un cinéma politique”, and his first two features, A bout de souffle and Le petit soldat, made about a decade later, reflect the same dichotomy.… Read more »

Huck Finn and Mr. Welles (1988 lecture)

As far as I know, this is the only surviving remnant, at least on paper, of a lecture I gave at what may have been the first international and academic conference devoted to Orson Welles, held at New York University in May 1988. The footnotes haven’t survived. — J.R.

HuckFinnonradio

Note: The following is a revised version of a paper which was initially structured around four lengthy excerpts from the Huckleberry Finn radio show presented on The Campbell Playhouse. In order to make this adaptation, I have eliminated all of my remarks about music and sound effects and given more emphasis to allusion and description rather than citation. Interested readers are urged to consult the radio show, available on Mark 56 Records (no. 634), P.O. Box One, Anaheim, CA 92805. [April 2015: This can now be accessed online and for free here.]

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Huckleberry Finn was broadcast on The Campbell Playhouse on March 17, 1940, during the period when Orson Welles was commuting every week between Hollywood and New York. Herman Mankiewicz was working on the first draft of the Citizen Kane script at the time. Three and a half months had passed since the final version of the film script of Heart of Darkness had been completed, and two months since the final script of The Smiler with the Knife.… Read more »

Early Film Reviews (August 1964)

Two movie columns published in Summer ’64, a newspaper published by Columbia University and Teachers College in August 1964, while I was attending summer school there in Manhattan. I recall having seen Hitchcock’s Marnie and Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning that same summer for the same publication, and reviewed at least the former, but apparently either this review never ran or my printed copy of it hasn’t survived -– more likely the former.

That Man from Rio is being released this spring in an attractive, restored 2-disc Blu-Ray package by the Cohen Film Collection, along with de Broca’s follow-up feature. Up to His Ears (Les Tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine, 1965). I’m still hoping for an eventual release of  the long-unavailable Five Day Lover (1961), which I recall as my favorite de Broca feature….One thing that I now think I got wrong about That Man from Rio is cross-referencing it with North by Northwest, when a comparison of Belmondo with Douglas Fairbanks (whose work I hadn’t encountered at the time) would have been far more apt. The shots of him running in this film are even more beautiful in some ways than those in Breathless, and some of his acrobatics are stunning.Read more »

Limite

From the Chicago Reader (November 22, 2007). — J.R.

limite1

Sometimes cited as the greatest of all Brazilian films, this silent experimental feature (1931) by poet and novelist Mario Peixoto, who never completed another film, was seen by Orson Welles and won the admiration of everyone from Sergei Eisenstein to Walter Salles. But its status as a poetic narrative — about a man and two women lost at sea in a rowboat, whose pasts are conveyed in flashbacks — has kept it in the margins of most film histories, where it’s been known mainly as a provocative and legendary cult item. The remarkably luscious and mobile cinematography (for which cameraman Edgar Brazil had to build special equipment) alone makes it well worth seeing. 115 min. (JR)

limite2Read more »

PEANUTS, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Gary Groth of Fantagraphics Books commissioned me to write this Introduction to the first volume of Charles Schulz’s Sunday color strips of Peanuts, covering the early 1950s, which was published in November 2013. — J.R.

 

“…I’ve made a lot of mistakes down through the years doing things I
never should have done. But fortunately, in a comic strip, yesterday
doesn’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is today and tomorrow.”
— Charles Schultz to Gary Groth (“At 3 O’clock in the Morning,”
Comics Journal #200, December 1997)

 

It was one thing to read Sunday color Peanuts comic strips from 1952 to 1955 at the rate of one per week, when they came out — and not only because they would have wound up in the trash like the rest of the Sunday paper, long before my brothers and I went to sleep that night. And it’s quite another thing to read them all today, piled together in the present volume, one after the other, seven or eight panels at a time, as if they’re the successive chapters of an ongoing serial — or maybe just the latest portions of an endless white picket fence that stretches towards some version of infinity or eternity (or at least roughly half a century of dependable continuity, in any case).… Read more »

Invitation to the Trance [SLEEPWALK]

From the January 29, 1988 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

SLEEPWALK

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Sara Driver

Written by Driver and Lorenzo Mans

With Suzanne Fletcher, Ann Magnuson, Dexter Lee, Steven Chen, Tony Todd, Richard Boes, and Ako.

The French term fantastique — which emcompasses science fiction, comic strips, Surrealism, sword and sorcery tales, and many other forms of fantasy — suggests an attitude toward the imagination that is distinctly different from the Anglo-American model. In our more empirical culture, reams of verbiage are devoted to distinguishing science fiction from fantasy, and legislating certain laws of etiquette to govern both — rules of internal consistency and narrative coherence decreeing that all breaches with recognizable reality stem from the same premises, whether these premises be scientific, purely fanciful, or some mixture of the two.

The French tend to be freer and looser about such matters, which helps to explain why such films as Les visiteurs du soir, Picnic on the Grass, Last Year at Marienbad, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451, Celine and Julie Go Boating, and Deathwatch pose to English and American temperaments certain problems that are not posed by The Wizard of Oz, Things to Come, It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner.… Read more »

Two Neglected Filmmakers

These two short articles were written for the catalogue of the fifth edition of the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film in 2004. Both are about neglected filmmakers who are also longtime friends of mine–although neither, to the best of my knowledge, has ever seen any films by the other, and they met for the first time at the festival, where complete retrospectives of both filmmakers were being presented. (I first met Eduardo in Paris in 1973, shortly after he’d finished working as a screenwriter on Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau, and I first met Sara about ten years later in New York, shortly before I saw her first major film, You Are Not I, and decided to devote a chapter to her in my book Film: The Front Line 1983.) Her complete works are now available in a wonderful two-disc package, which can be found here.


When I was asked to write these two pieces for the BAFICI catalogue, I opted to make them each exactly the same length (942 words) and to make them rhyme with one another in various other ways. (Note: the last three images in this post, which for me evoke certain aspects of some of the films by both filmmakers, are all paintings by Remedios Varos: Insomnio I [1947], La Despedida [1958], and Bordando el Manto Terrestre [1961.])  — J.R


Two Neglected Filmmakers:
Eduardo de Gregorio and Sara Driver (2004)

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

Eduardo de Gregorio’s Dream Door
It must be a bummer to be an Argentinian writer and/or filmmaker and constantly get linked to Jorge Luis Borges.… Read more »